Two Animated Americans: Ike, Adlai, and Televised Political Shorts During the 1952 Presidential Election
When presidential campaigning first came to television in 1952, neither politicians nor the public were certain what power, if any, this communication medium might wield over voter behavior, let alone how to use it effectively. Despite the rapid adoption of television, political parties preferred radio, reluctant to test the limits of visual communication. Thus it was no surprise candidates offered the public a wide variety of styles, including cartoons featuring quixotic donkeys, circus barkers, and even Old MacDonald’s dilapidated farm. These efforts, however, did indicate an emerging awareness of television’s potential to set the public agenda, as advertising techniques were being combined with public knowledge of parties and candidates to create succinct, easily understood messages that took advantage of TV’s unique communicative attributes. This can be seen not only in what was produced, but how the three dimensions of visual broadcasting (picture, text, and sound) interacted. These spots, drawing on distinctly American signs and symbols, invoked and often amplified the hopes and fears of the electorate during the early Cold War, providing an important glimpse into how political strategists from both parties used public memories and symbolic meanings on multiple levels to promote specific voting behavior during the 1952 campaign.
Keywords: Visual Culture, Media History, Media Theory, Presidential History, American History, Cultural History
PhD Candidate, History Department, Binghamton University